A Hong Kong court has sentenced several of the city's leading pro-democracy campaigners to between 8 and 18 months in prison over their roles in unauthorized assemblies at the height of the 2019 protests.

Among those sentenced was Jimmy Lai, 72, who founded the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper. Lai received 14 months in prison for his involvement in two protests on August 18 and 31, 2019.

Also jailed for taking part in both events was Lee Cheuk-yan, a 64-year-old former lawmaker and veteran pro-democracy activist, who received a total of 14 months in prison. Three former lawmakers were jailed over the August 18 march, including "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung, who received an 18 month sentence, Au Nok-hin, 10 months, and Cyd Ho, 8 months.

During Friday's sentencing hearing, judge Amanda Woodcock said the defendants "deliberately defied the law" and the unauthorized protests posed "a direct challenge to the authority of the police, and therefore law and order."

She said sentence imposed should "reflect the seriousness of the offense and culpability," as well as the "conscious decision" by the defendants to break the law.

Several defendants avoided prison, receiving suspended sentences in respect of their advanced age and long record of public service. They included Martin Lee, an 82-year-old veteran barrister often referred to as "Hong Kong's father of democracy," and veteran pro-democracy activists Albert Ho, Margaret Ng and Leung Yiu-chung. Former lawmaker Yeung Sum received a suspended sentence for his role in the August 31 protest.

Unlawful protests

The sentences were handed down after Lai and others were found guilty earlier this month of organizing and participating in two protests on August 18 and August 31 in 2019, both of which had been banned by police. Each charge carried with it a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Lai's barrister, Audrey Eu, said during Friday's mitigation hearing that Lai should not be given custodial sentence because he did not breach the peace. "He was exercising his constitutional right of peaceful assembly, (but not) doing it out of personal gain or greed," she said.
Separately, prosecutors added a second charge under the national security law against Lai during another court hearing on Friday. In addition to the unauthorized assembly charges, Lai now faces two counts of colluding with foreign forces, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Hoonk by Mario Ohibsky is licensed under Pixabay
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